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Major youth report has scarce GLBT content

in NEW ZEALAND, 04/06/2011

A major report into the state of life for New Zealand youth, which was personally commissioned by the Prime Minister, makes scant reference to same-sex attracted youth and does not mention transgender young people at all. Improving the Transition for Adolescents was requested by John Key in 2009 and was undertaken by a task force co-chaired by Professor Peter Gluckman and Professor Harlene Hayne.

It arose from concern adolescents in New Zealand have a high rate of 'social morbidity'compared to other developed countries, with at least 20 per cent of young New Zealandersexhibiting behaviours and emotions or having experiences that lead to long-termconsequences affecting the rest of their lives.

Based on domestic and international peer-reviewed research, the weighty 318-page document has dedicated chapters on Maori, Pasifika, Asian and immigrant youth, chapters on depression, suicide, bullying, smoking, alcohol use, cannabis use and obesity, but no specific information on queer youth.

Sir Peter Gluckman's Advisor Dr Alan Beedle tells GayNZ.com Daily News one of the issues in regards to the inclusion of data on glbt young people was limited research that could be drawn upon.

Dr Beedle says glbt youth issues were mentioned in the planning stages, but were not given a dedicated chapter. He says the report includes a chapter on 'sexuality', but it was left to its author Dr Sue Bagshaw to define the issue and gather the research on it.

There is mention of the Youth '07 survey in Dr Bagshaw's sexual health-focused chapter, where she shares the finding that rates of STIs and mental health problems were raised amongst same-sex attracted youth, with increased rates of suicide to as much as five times that of their straight peers.

"We have a chapter on sexuality that covers the (glbt) issue, I believe, rather lightly I suspect, with just a few mentions," Dr Beedle says.

The suicide chapter itself points out that "young people dealing with same-sex attraction are vulnerable to self-harm, but evidence is hard to gather in relation to completed suicide."

Director of Nelson-based queer youth support group Q-Youth Seb Stewart was among a delegation which met with the Prime Minister to discuss issues impacting glbt young people just last week. He has been encouraged to see John Key putting energy into the needs of youth in New Zealand.

"At our recent meeting with him, Prime Minister Key indicated that, should he be re-elected, the youth portfolio would be one that his office would adopt in the next term. He was particularly concerned about the youth suicide rate in New Zealand," Stewart says.

"Mr Key acknowledged that queer youth are a particularly at risk group in this regard. He was also interested in discussing community development models that might reduce this risk, by providing support.

"It is disappointing to see that queer youth are all but ignored in the report commissioned by the Prime Minister. Personally, that just encourages me to keep the communication pathways open with him and to come up with real solutions that he can support."

Among the key findings in the report are that New Zealand "has a woefully deficient number of mental health services that are aimed specifically at young people" and "furthermore, doctors, teachers, and parents are poorly trained to identify those young people who might be at risk".

It recommends increasing the mental health workforce in New Zealand, particularly those who are specifically trained to work with children and adolescents."

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